This is an election that analysts, experts and historians will pore over for decades.
The confluence of mobile technology, media influence, information democracy on the web and voter alienation has created a serendipitous moment for the Liberal Democrats as a voice for fundamental change of a political system that is rotten to its core. From the way we pay for our politics and politicians, to the way government agencies manage information about us, to the way politics is run by two old parties who, as gigantic corporate spin operations, have lost their connection with real people and their every day concerns, people are bewildered and angry.
Paxman’s interview with Nick Clegg was telling in one particular regard: he sought to dismiss the value of £700, the average benefit of the Liberal Democrats’ income tax policy of raising the threshold to £10,000. Even the BBC, in the person of Jeremy Paxman, fail to understand that £700 is a colossal amount of money.
I was talking to a family friend at the weekend who, as someone who struggled to keep his small gardening business going, told me that £700 was a fortune. For BBC board member Ashley Highfield, that is less than the £773 he claimed for a single dinner on 4th February 2008 (see BBC expenses). It is difficult to imagine that such expenses are not available to their star presenters, so it is no wonder that Paxman is so out of touch with how hard it is in the real world.
But nowhere is this anti-politics more evident than on the Facebook Group Rage Against the Election. To the astonishment of new media watchers and seasoned party hacks alike, people are taking back their politics and using the democratic nature of the web to make their anger known. Elizabeth Eisenstein’s exhaustive work The Printing Press as an Agent of Change documents the extraordinary impact of the a technical revolution on the democratisation of information. Academics and lofty historians might scoff, but their should be no doubting the impact of the likes of Facebook on the way people want to take ownership of information and use corporate tools for non-corporate purposes.
The Rage Against the Election Facebook Group is a phenomenon.
Set-up entirely independently of the Liberal Democrats, it has a single objective: to secure one million members in support of the Liberal Democrats and propel them into office.
Read that again: it has been set-up entirely independently of the Liberal Democrats. People out there, angry at their politicians, see the Liberal Democrats as a vehicle for change.
Checking in at 8.20am its membership stood at a staggering 110,847.
That is 110,847 individuals who are confident enough to attach their name to a public statement saying that they want to see the Liberal Democrats in office.
If you wonder what that means, try these figures for comparison, each checked just after 8.30am:
- Official Conservative Facebook page 50,794
- Official Lib Dem Facebook page 45,189
- Official Labour Facebook page 25,658
There is nothing quite so rewarding as seeing people speaking up and refusing to be told what to think and what to believe. With 16 days until polling day, who knows how many will end up joining the Rage Against the Election?
What is certain is that you would need to be very naive indeed to underestimate the role played by new media and internet technology in this election.